Finkelstein's "Holocaust Industry" Reviewed
           The Nation reviews The Holocaust Industry

          Cloud After Auschwitz

          Neve Gordon

          The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish

          By Norman Finkelstein. Verso. 150 pp. $23.

          You have "little trace," exclaimed Gershom Scholem in a letter he sent
          to the great Jewish political philosopher Hannah Arendt, of "love for
          the Jewish people." It was the early 1960s, and Scholem, one of Israel's
          most prominent intellectuals, was responding to her analysis of Adolf
          Eichmann's trial.

          Scholem's attack was spurred by several assertions Arendt had made,
          including her allegation that the Jewish officials in the ghettos-the
          Judenrat-expedited the extermination machine; if they had not
          collaborated with the Nazis, Arendt wrote, fewer Jews would have been

          Scholem's criticism expressed the prevailing view held by Israel's
          elite. Not surprisingly, Arendt was censored in Israel, and it took
          thirty-six years before an Israeli press agreed to translate her
          writings. Although the recent appearance of Eichmann in Jerusalem in
          Hebrew has rekindled an age-old debate, it seems that Israelis can now
          relate to the Holocaust in a more mature way.

          Corners of the Jewish establishment in the United States may not be
          ready to cope with similarly forceful criticism, though, judging from
          the response to Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry. A review
          put forth in the New York Times tossed it aside as "an ideological
          fanatic's view of other people's opportunism, by a writer so reckless
          and ruthless in his attacks that he is prepared to defend his own
          enemies, the bastions of Western capitalism, and to warn that 'The
          Holocaust' will stir up an anti-Semitism whose significance he otherwise
          discounts." There are two major problems with this line of criticism.

          First, it summarily dismisses Finkelstein's arguments without any
          attempt to engage his disturbing accusations. Second, instead of
          concentrating on the book, the reviewer goes after the author, implying
          that Finkelstein, the son of survivors, represents a neoteric breed of
          anti-Semite. In this way, it resembles the assault on Arendt.

          On the book's first page Finkelstein distinguishes between the actual
          historical events of the Nazi holocaust and "The Holocaust," a term
          denoting an "ideological weapon." He notifies the reader that The
          Holocaust Industry deals only with the ideological component, which is
          used to cast both Israel and "the most successful ethnic group in the
          United States" as victims. Victim status, in turn, says Finkelstein,
          enables the Zionist state, which has "a horrendous human rights record,"
          to deflect criticism, and US Jewish organizations (the American Jewish
          Committee, the American Jewish Congress and others) to advance dubious
          financial goals.

          Others have already shown that the holocaust has served to justify
          pernicious acts. Tom Segev, a leading Israeli journalist, said as much
          over a decade ago in his book The Seventh Million. In the early 1980s,
          Israeli scholar Boaz Evron observed that the holocaust is often
          discussed by "a churning out of slogans and a false view of the world,
          the real aim of which is not at all an understanding of the past, but
          the manipulation of the present." Thus, Finkelstein's contribution to
          the existing literature involves his concentration on US Jewish
          organizations. He attempts to go beyond Peter Novick's The Holocaust in
          American Life [see Jon Wiener, "Holocaust Creationism," July 12, 1999],
          which focused in part on abuses committed by Jewish organizations and
          intellectuals, by providing a much more radical critique. Finkelstein
          strives to show how the organizations have "shrunk the stature of
          [Jewish] martyrdom to that of a Monte Carlo casino."

          The major claim of the first chapter, "Capitalizing the Holocaust," is
          that until the 1960s "American Jewish elites 'forgot' the Nazi
          holocaust," their public obliviousness induced by a fear of being
          accused of "dual loyalty." Finkelstein urges the reader to keep in mind
          that the United States opposed Israel's 1956 invasion of Egypt and did
          not become an ardent champion of the Jewish state until the mid-1960s.
          Accordingly, he avers, Jewish elites were apprehensive about
          accentuating the holocaust for fear that this would be interpreted as
          favoring Israel over the United States.

          The reader is also reminded that after World War II, Germany became "a
          crucial postwar American ally in the US confrontation with the Soviet
          Union." It was, I believe along with the author, a sad moment in Jewish
          history when organizations like the American Jewish Committee and the
          Anti-Defamation League "actively collaborated in the McCarthy-era witch
          hunt." The crux of Finkelstein's argument in this context is that Jewish
          organizations "remembered" the holocaust only after the United States
          and Israel had formed a strategic cold war alliance. They suddenly
          realized that "The Holocaust" (in its capitalized form) could be
          employed as an ideological tool.

          Finkelstein does not hesitate to use blunt language rather than
          euphemism; and although he usually applies words in a precise manner, at
          times he gets carried away in his analysis. For instance, at the very
          end of the first chapter, after discussing the dissolution of the
          longstanding alliance between American Jews and blacks, he claims that
          "just as Israelis, armed to the teeth by the United States, courageously
          put unruly Palestinians in their place, so American Jews courageously
          put unruly Blacks in their place." The book offers no support for the
          sentence's second clause; the analogy it sets up, too, is erroneous and
          can easily be used to discredit Finkelstein and thus his more serious

          The book's principal weakness, however, develops in its second chapter,
          "Hoaxers, Hucksters and History." Finkelstein dedicates this portion of
          the book to undermining two "central dogmas" that "underpin the
          Holocaust framework: (1) The Holocaust marks a categorically unique
          historical event; (2) The Holocaust marks the climax of an irrational,
          eternal Gentile hatred of Jews."

          My criticism has nothing to do with Finkelstein's analysis of the second
          dogma, whose paradigmatic example is Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing
          Executioners. The main thesis underlying Goldhagen's book-which has been
          acclaimed in some quarters but derided in many others-is that ordinary
          Germans were no less anti-Semitic than National Socialist Party members.
          Goldhagen's theory serves the notion that Jews can always fall prey to
          Gentiles, which makes them the quintessential and eternal victims. And
          if "'all people collaborated with the Nazis in the destruction of
          Jewry,'" then, as Boaz Evron points out, "everything is permissible to
          Jews in their relationship to other people." Together with Ruth Bettina
          Birn, an international expert on Nazi war crimes, Finkelstein examined
          Goldhagen's references one by one, and in their book A Nation on Trial
          they concluded convincingly that Hitler's Willing Executioners is not
          worthy of being called an academic text.

          My problem, rather, lies with Finkelstein's attempt to demonstrate that
          the holocaust was not a unique historical event. I disagree with Elie
          Wiesel, who for a "standard fee of $25,000 (plus a chauffeured
          limousine)"-in Finkelstein's aside-insists that "we cannot even talk
          about it," and I follow Finkelstein's admonition that it's helpful to
          compare it with other historical events. Yes, Finkelstein is right that
          Communists, not Jews, were the first political casualties of Nazism, and
          that the handicapped were the first genocidal victims. He is also
          correct that Gypsies were systematically murdered. But these facts do
          not prove that the holocaust was unique only "by virtue of time and
          location," in his formulation. Even though mass genocide has occurred
          elsewhere, death trains, gas ovens and Auschwitz have not. The
          holocaust, including the horrific experience of European Jewry, was

          Finkelstein's error is in conflating two issues: the uniqueness of the
          holocaust, on the one hand, and how this uniqueness is interpreted and
          put to use in manipulative ways, on the other. He fails to recognize
          that one need not debunk the uniqueness of an event in order to compare
          it and criticize its use and abuse.

          Nonetheless, when it comes to analyzing how "The Holocaust" has been
          employed to advance political interests, Finkelstein is at his best. He
          shows how "The Holocaust" demagogues draw a link between "uniqueness"
          and "Jewish chosenness" and demonstrates how both are used to justify
          Israel's rightness, regardless of the context. His most notable
          contribution is in the third chapter of his book, "The Double
          Shakedown," where he couches as an exposé his view that "the Holocaust
          industry has become an outright extortion racket." The chapter deals
          with a few specific cases but mainly focuses on the circumstances
          leading to the compensation agreement between Switzerland and a number
          of Jewish organizations. In this disturbing affair the devil is in the
          details, and Finkelstein has done his homework.

          The empirical evidence he supplies is alarming. He documents how Jewish
          organizations have consistently exaggerated numbers-of slave laborers or
          the amount of "victim gold" purchased by the banks-in order to secure
          more money. This sort of inflation was recently repeated in an October
          23 letter written by Burt Neuborne-the lead counsel in the Swiss banks
          case-to The Nation. Neuborne claimed, for instance, that if one takes
          into account that there were "more than 2 million wartime accounts"
          whose records have been destroyed, then the $1.25 billion compensation
          provided by the Swiss "barely scratches the surface of the stolen
          funds." Neuborne fails to mention the findings published by the
          Independent Committee of Eminent Persons, also known as the Volcker
          Committee, in its Report on Dormant Accounts of Victims of Nazi
          Persecution in Swiss Banks (1999). The committee established that
          approximately 54,000 dormant accounts had a "possible or probable"
          relationship to Holocaust victims, and of these only half had any real
          likely connection. Considering that "the estimated value of 10,000 of
          these accounts for which some information was available runs to $170-200
          million," even Raul Hilberg, author of the seminal study The Destruction
          of the European Jews, infers that the "current value of the monies in
          the dormant Jewish accounts is far less than the $1.25 billion paid by
          the Swiss."

          Hilberg himself has accused some Jewish organizations of "blackmail,"
          and Finkelstein describes in detail how this economic strong-arming was
          carried out. While the high-powered lawyers representing the
          organizations haggled with the Swiss, the Jewish lobby launched an
          extensive campaign. This drive included the publication of
          studies-supported by the Simon Wiesenthal Center-that accused
          Switzerland of "knowingly profiting from blood money" and committing
          "unprecedented theft," and claimed that "dishonesty was a cultural code
          that individual Swiss have mastered to protect the nation's image and
          prosperity." Using its leverage, the lobby utilized these allegations in
          the House and Senate banking committees in order to orchestrate a
          "shameless campaign of vilification" against Switzerland, in
          Finkelstein's words. Simultaneously, it convinced officials in a number
          of states, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois, to threaten the
          Swiss banks with economic boycott. Finally, the banks bent in response.
          Call it what you will, ingenious lobbying or conspiracy theory,
          Finkelstein manages to disclose how this well-oiled machine has utilized
          abhorrent methods to fill its coffers.

          The World Jewish Congress has amassed "roughly $7 billion" in
          compensation moneys. One reads that former Secretary of State Lawrence
          Eagleburger earns an annual salary of $300,000 as chairman of the
          International Commission on Holocaust-Era Insurance Claims, while
          ex-Senator Alfonse D'Amato is paid $350 an hour plus expenses for
          mediating Holocaust lawsuits-he received $103,000 for the first six
          months of his labors. Most of the attorneys hired by the Jewish
          organizations earn around $600 an hour and their fees in total have
          reached several million. One lawyer asked for "$2,400 for reading Tom
          Bower's book, Nazi Gold." These attorneys might be demanding a smaller
          fee than is common to such litigation, but even a small percentage of a
          billion dollars is a lot of money. One should keep in mind that
          Finkelstein's mother received $3,500 for spending years in the Warsaw
          ghetto and in labor camps-the same amount D'Amato made in ten hours'
          work. These numbers plainly suggest that the "struggle," as much as it
          may be about paying damages to victims, has elements of an out-and-out
          money grab.

          Finkelstein's analysis here boils down to three major criticisms: First,
          US Jewish organizations have been using shady methods to squeeze as
          money as they can from European countries; second, while these
          organizations "celebrate" the "needy victims," much of the money gained
          in the process does not reach the victims but is used by organizations
          for "pet projects" and exorbitant overhead salaries; and third, that
          Jewish organizations' ongoing distortion of facts and emotional
          manipulation foments anti-Semitism. While his arguments are convincing,
          his attempt to be provocative leads to carelessness. His claim that the
          "Holocaust may turn out to be the greatest theft in the history of
          mankind" is preposterous, especially considering the history of
          imperialism. And yes, the "Holocaust industry" probably engenders some
          anti-Semitism; but Finkelstein should also clearly state that any
          misbehavior by Jewish organizations does not, and never can, provide an
          excuse for it.

          Finkelstein does not spend all of his ire on his critique of Jewish
          organizations; he forcefully condemns US double standards as well. Why,
          for example, was a Holocaust museum built on the Washington Mall while
          there is no similarly high-profile museum commemorating crimes that took
          place in the course of American history? "Imagine," he says, "the
          wailing accusation of hypocrisy here were Germany to build a national
          museum in Berlin to commemorate not the Nazi genocide but American
          slavery or the extermination of Native Americans." Along the same line,
          the United States pressures Germany to pay compensation for its use of
          slave labor, but few in government dare mention compensation for
          African-Americans. Swiss banks are asked to pay back money taken from
          Jews but are allowed to continue profiting from the billions of dollars
          deposited by tyrants like Mobutu and Suharto at the expense of
          indigenous populations.

          Informing Finkelstein's analysis is a universal ethics, which echoes
          Arendt's important claim that Eichmann should have been sentenced for
          his crimes against humanity rather than his crimes against the Jews. His
          book is controversial not entirely because of his mistakes or his
          piercing rhetoric but because he speaks truth to power. He, and not the
          Jewish organizations he criticizes, is following the example set by the
          great Jewish prophets.

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